I am working on projects examining how communities and individuals assign moral significance to their work, especially in the areas of creative industries and knowledge production.

+ Good on paper: Sociological critique, pragmatism, and secularization theory (With Samuel D. Stabler)

Theory & Society, 48, no. 2 (2019): 325-350

An open access version of the article is available on the publisher's website. A downloadable preprint is available at this link.

Recent years have seen numerous sociological disagreements devolve into moral debates, with scholars openly accusing their peers of being both empirically wrong and morally misguided. While social scientists routinely reflect on the ethical implications of certain research assumptions and data collection methods, the sociology of knowledge production has said little about how moral debates over scholarship shape subsequent research trajectories. Drawing on the New French Pragmatic Sociology, this article examines how sociologists respond to moral criticisms of their work, and outlines three typical responses: (1) accepting the moral criticism and changing direction completely; (2) accepting the criticism but changing discursive register to allow additional work in the area without being subject to critique; and (3) circumventing the criticism by using the debate to devise new research directions that would not trigger such criticism. To demonstrate, the article looks at how sociologists of religion responded, in their published scholarship, to criticisms of secularization theory as depreciating religious people and spiritual experience. Across the responses, we show that sociologists have included moral considerations in their empirical investigations and have switched between diverse moral frameworks to address -- and also avoid -- criticism. We conclude by demonstrating that this model can be extended to other domains of sociological inquiry, including the study of gender-based wage inequality and methodological nationalism. The article highlights the importance of mapping the moral frameworks sociologists use for the sociology of knowledge and the sociology of morality.

Please contact me if you would like a copy of this paper.

+ Advertising morality: Maintaining moral worth in a stigmatized profession (With Andrew C. Cohen)

Theory & Society 47, no. 2 (2018): 175-206

Winner of the 2018 American Sociological Association Altruism, Morality, and Social Solidarity Outstanding Published Article Award

An open access version of the article is available on the publisher's website. A downloadable pre-print is available at this link.

Although a great deal of literature has looked at how individuals respond to stigma, far less has been written about how professional groups address challenges to their self-perception as abiding by clear moral standards. In this paper, we ask how professional group members maintain a positive self-perception in face of moral stigma. Drawing on pragmatic and cultural sociology, we claim that professional communities hold narratives that link various aspects of the work their members perform with specific understanding of the common good. These narratives allow professionals to maintain a shared view of their work as benefitting society and to perceive themselves as moral individuals. As a case study, we focus on the advertising industry, which has long been stigmatized as complicit in exploitative capitalist mechanisms and cultural degradation. We draw on 9 total months of fieldwork and 74 interviews across three U.S. advertising agencies. We find that advertising practitioners use narratives to present their work as contributing to the common good, depicting themselves as moral individuals who care about others in the process. We analyze three prevalent narratives: the account-driven narrative, which links moral virtue to caring for clients; the creative-driven narrative, which ties caring to the production of meaningful advertisements; and the strategic-driven narrative, which sees caring in finding meaningful relationships for consumers and brands.

Blog post

"How Do Admen Sleep at Night? Responding to Moral Stigma in a Creative Industry." Work in Progress: Sociology on the Economy, Work and Inequality, July 2018 (with Andy Cohen).

+ Penny for your Thoughts: Beggars and the Exercise of Morality in Daily Life

Sociological Forum 27, no. 4 (2012): 847-871

An open access version of the article is available on the publisher's website. A downloadable pre-print is available at this link.

Urban sociology has tended to study interactions between passersby and “street persons” with an emphasis on the ways street persons become bothersome, harassing, or dangerous. This article moves away from the focus on the ways interactions in public go awry and focuses on how individuals account for the mundane, everyday exchanges they have with strangers who seek their help. Based on interview data and qualitative analysis of data from an Internet survey, this article suggests that the presence of beggars does not inherently symbolize urban decay to passersby and does not necessarily elicit anxiety, but instead provides a valuable texture of urban life. Further, the article argues that individuals, when justifying their responses to requests for help from needy persons (beggars) in urban spaces, use a variety of cultural strategies to maintain their perception of themselves as moral persons, both when they choose to help and when they refuse. Drawing from these findings, the article suggests that urban sociology and the sociology of risk would benefit from sensitizing their studies of public interactions to the diverse meanings individuals assign to them, rather than presupposing annoyance, anxiety, or fear as their predominant characteristic.

Policy memo

"How Passers-By and Policymakers View Beggars in American Communities", SSN Key Findings, April 2014.

+ Recovering Morality: Pragmatic Sociology and Literary Studies (with Eva Illouz)

New Literary History 41, no. 2 (2010): 351-369

Read the article at this link or on the publisher's website.

The disciplines of sociology and literary studies have seen a renewed interest in morality and in ethics in recent decades, but there has been little dialogue between the two. Recognizing that literary works, both classical and popular, can serve as moral critiques and that readers, of all types and classes, can and often do serve as moral critics, this paper seeks to apply some insights of pragmatic sociology to the field of literature by exploring the ways in which moral claims are expressed, evaluated, and negotiated by texts and through texts by readers. Drawing on the new French pragmatic sociology, represented by sociologists such as Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot, this paper claims that fiction has a twofold role in civil society. Firstly, novels serve as critiques in their ability to formalize and dramatize generalizable logics of evaluation and to elicit debates by pointing to the inadequacies of, and clashes between, such evaluative logics in the lives of their characters. Secondly, the reading public is often moved to form its own critiques of a novel, in praise or in denunciation of its content, its form, or its perceived intent, and in doing so exercises its moral capacity in the public sphere.


An abridged translation to Russian appeared in Social Sciences and Humanities: Domestic and International Literature, series 7: Literary Criticism 18, no. 1 (2012): 13-19.

A translation to Polish appeared in Second Texts, no. 6 (2012): 167-187.